Does diversity strengthen or weaken the culture?

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Written by Peter Leeson, Culture and Transformation

No, I am not going to write about isolationist or nationalist governments and other political movements, I am speaking here to industries, businesses and other organisation

My business is to try to support and improve the culture within organisations, working to make your staff feel appreciated and react accordingly to increase customer satisfaction. Having a motivated, creative team, who feel valued and responsible, is the best approach to being ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

For many businesses, the hiring process includes a test or verification to see how well the candidate “fits into the team”. The result is that many organisations end up being monochromatic: they hire people who have the same ideas, the same principles, similar education, come from the “same side of the tracks” as the rest of the team. And, therefore, their knowledge largely overlaps with that already present, they will not challenge your received ideas.

The resulting organisation continues in the same direction, produces the same things as before, and wonders why the clients are not following. Your obedient, process-revering staff believes that “the way we have always done it” is the best way to do it. Ultimately, they can expect to be replaced by artificial intelligence or robotics. Your product or service is known, considered as old-fashioned or traditional; the best and brightest graduates are not interested in staying with you for too long.

You risk ending up a rut. A rut is a tomb with the ends removed.

A thriving culture that encourages creativity and innovation will help retain key staff and make your organisation attractive to new graduates and others. You want your team members to feel like valued stakeholders rather than corporate cyphers.

A thriving culture that encourages creativity and innovation will help retain key staff and make your organisation attractive to new graduates and others. You want your team members to feel like valued stakeholders rather than corporate cyphers.

You interviewed them and hired them because you thought they were valuable; why have you locked them into obeying rules and following strict processes? Rules are important, of course. You want to make sure that all your people represent the organisation with the same level of professional respect and service. One usually creates rules in response to a problem, perceived or real. If the rule stays in place after the problem has disappeared, the safeguard turns into overly bureaucratic restrictions. Staff obeys rules because they must.

It is useful to bring in disruptive elements and cynics, people who will challenge you and ask the “stupid” questions.

Including someone from a different background may challenge your habits and help you understand what changes your products and services need. You Once in a rut, it is extremely difficult to change directions when necessary The inflexible highway to where-you-thought-the-marketwould-be makes the going easy and doesn’t require thinking; if you are on the wrong road, you can’t do anything about it until it’s too late. should probably consider including people who have no experience in your industry; they have no prejudices. Hiring a sociologist in a software company, inserting a civil engineer into your publishing business, these are options that will allow useful cross-fertilisation of ideas, reaching out into the principles behind the work and understanding how to perform more effectively. Henry Ford’s revolutionary concept for his factory came from the way hanging carcasses in a slaughterhouse were moved around to the workers.

Personally, I used to believe in “hiring the best person for the job”, and disapproved of “positive discrimination”. Then, I realised that the “best person for the job” was someone who agreed with your world view, someone who would not challenge the team, someone with whom you could relate. You naturally tend to hire more people in your age group, ethnic background, level of education. You favour those who share your beliefs and principles. In many cases, people go through rigorous interviews and tests only to hire a clone of what the existing team members.

Yes, it is essential to fit in the team and work together. However, you don’t want a team that obeys without thinking. Continuous improvement and creativity depend on cynics who will challenge what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Someone who has experienced real poverty or discrimination will help you understand a sector of the market that your university graduates have never seen. A gay man will understand discrimination against women; a black person will understand discrimination against the disabled. Employees born in poverty can assist you in seeing the needs of people who cannot make ends meet at the end of the month, let alone buy a computer or a smartphone.

Innovation comes from creativity; creativity comes from challenging received ideas. You should want to be challenged by your employees before your market place challenges you.

I recently signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, a non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector and drive inclusion and diversity in a practical and uniquely measurable way. TTC’s goal is to make the UK tech sector a genuinely inclusive industry, reflecting the society it represents.

Signatories to the charter commit to several steps in their hiring process. As a consultant in culture and quality, I hope that more organisations will understand the value of diversity and I will continue to promote that when assisting organisations to improve their quality, productivity and efficiency through a culture that fosters innovation, integration and engagement. Your team members should feel that management considers them as valuable stakeholders and assets, and not corporate cyphers or just resources.

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